You couldn’t make it up, could you?

Fines for low grades

A year or so ago a group of teachers were “discussing” the “management’s” latest initiative to improve standards (for which, read results, for which read position in league table) when one teacher made one of the most profound and insightful statements about education that have heard:

They won’t improve the results by making us [teachers] work harder

I don’t know if this was his own original thought or a quote that needs to be attributed elsewhere, but it is so true. Teachers already work long hours and do what they can to get the best results possible for their charges. Just making the teachers do more (of the same?) is going to have little impact as they are already working to their full capacity. (Getting the pupils to work harder might, on the other hand, have some effect …)


And so, as my summer holiday draws to a close, I was disappointed to wake this morning to find reports across the press and media that the Policy Exchnage – a think tank originally set up by Michael Gove – are suggesting that schools should be fined £500 per pupil who fails to achieve a grade C or better in GCSE Maths or English.

Now my understanding of the purpose of a fine is to modify behaviour through the deterrence effect: as I reach a 30 mph zone I slow down because I don’t want to be done for speeding and be fined. I buy a railway ticket from an automated booth before hopping on a train as, again, I don’t want to be caught and fined if I don’t.

One gets the impression that the Policy Exchange must think that we’re not doing enough to help our students achieve the “magic C” and with the prospect of fine dangling over our heads like a modern day sword of Damocles we’ll do that bit of extra work that we are obviously not already doing and convert all the D’s, E’s and F’s into C’s.

But if they listened to the discussion I mentioned above, they’d realise that it doesn’t work like that. Alas, students are not a simple manufactured widget or a rational economic unit. Teachers and schools do genuinely do all that they can to get the best possible results for their pupils. We don’t need draconian threats to motivate us – fines will make no difference what so ever as they can’t make the schools and teachers work any harder than they already are.

I confess, in the above paragraph I told a lie. Fines will make a difference, a negative one, as they will simply suck money out of already stretched school budgets. Time for the think tank to batten down the hatches and head of back to Salisbury Plain for maneuveres.

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  1. Caroline Wilson
    Posted 25/08/2015 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    The proportion getting below a C has to remain reasonably stable from year to year so even in the best possible school system there will always be the same number of students needing to resit so this would simply recycle the same amount of money around the system.

    • A Maths Teacher
      Posted 25/08/2015 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

      Caroline – you are absolutely right, this was something else that I had thought of, do we ultimately want everyone to get a grade C or better? If this is achieved then there will, no doubt, be howls about dumbing down.

      Many thanks for your comment, a great point very well argued.

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